- Paperback: 291 pages
- Publisher: Copernicus (July 2, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0387982698
- ISBN-13: 978-0387982694
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 17 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #982,524 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Out of their Minds: The Lives and Discoveries of 15 Great Computer Scientists
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"...Dennis Shasha and Cathy Lazere have written a friendly and informative guide to a group of scientists who have...greatly shaped the world we take for granted." -Chris Goodrich -- Los Angeles Times
"A fascinating collection of profiles and interviews with some of the men...who brought us [to the computer age]." -L.R. Shannon -- The New York Times
... lucidly written, consistently interesting, full of beautiful insights, examples, and stories, and generally inspiring. Also, lots of fun. -- David Gelernter, Yale University
About the Author
Dennis Shasha is a professor of computer science at New York University's Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences. His previous books include Database Tuning: A Principled Approach, and two mathematical detective stories, The Puzzling Adventures of Dr. Ecco, and Codes, Puzzles, and Conspiracy.
Cathy Lazere is a freelance writer who specializes in international corporate finance and technology. She has worked as an editor at McGraw-Hill and Business International, a division of the Economist Group. Ms. Lazere holds a B.A. from Yale and an M.B.A. from New York University.
Top customer reviews
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I jotted down a few interesting tidbits while I was reading the book. However, since I read the Kindle version of the book, I only have percentages, not page numbers. Anyway, I hope you're as entertained by some of these as I was.
John Backus, who lead the team that created Fortran at IBM, flunked out of college [2%]. He had a metal plate installed in his head [3%]. He disliked calculus but liked algebra [3%] (just like me!). These days, Backus is a proponent of functional programming [7%].
John von Neumann, who helped establish the fundamentals of computer architecture, thought that creating a programming language (i.e. Fortran) was a waste of time since programming wasn't a big problem [4%].
Ada Lovelace, who was the first programmer (not to mention, a girl!), was a gambler, an alcoholic, and a cocaine addict. She died of cancer at the age of 36. She is credited with inventing loops and subroutines [5%].
Fortran only had globals. Algol, which is considered an ancestor of C, added locals, thus permitting recursion [6%].
McCarthy, who designed Lisp, was born in 1927 to Communist party activists. He had an Irish, Catholic father and a Lithuanian, Jewish mother [8%]. McCarthy is the reason Algol had recursion [11%]. (I didn't know that C got recursion because of Lisp.)
Alan Kay, who did pioneering work on object-oriented programming and helped create Smalltalk, got thrown out of school for protesting the Jewish quota [15%].
Edsger W. Dijkstra, who did influential work on a lot of early computer science problems such as concurrency, did very well in school and wanted to turn programming into a respectable discipline [21%].
Fred Brooks, who wrote "The Mythical Man-Month", wrote this about iterative development, "In 'The Mythical Man-Month' I said build one and throw it away. But that isn't what I say anymore. Now I say, build a minimal thing--get it out in the field and start getting feedback, and then add function to it incrementally. The waterfall model of specify, build, test is just plain wrong for software. The interaction with the user is crucial to developing the specification. You have to develop the specification as you build and test."
The organization is interesting, beginning with the issue of simply how to program a computer (the development of Fortran and LISP), moving on to the development of algorithms (Dijkstra and Knuth), new computer architectures, and, finally, artificial intelligence.
It concludes with two short chapters, strangely titled "Epilogue" and "Postscript." (It seems a little odd to have two such titles at the end of the same book.) The former reviews progress so far, and the latter makes some predictions about the future.
The subtitle is very descriptive -- "The Lives and Discoveries of 15 Greaat Computer Scientists".
Each is covered in a chapter, mixing together an account of how their life's journey ended up in important work.
I knew some of the stories, but this book filled in lots of others. For example, I just know of Leslie Lamport's LaTeX system, not his other work!
If you have an interest in computer science, this is a good survey of the
individuals behind some of the fundamental discoveries.
The chapters cover the scientists within four sections: linguists, algorithmists, architects, and sculptors of machine intelligence. Within each chapter is a brief and generally entertaining biography and provide a concise discussion and explanation of some basic concepts that reveal the work that made the individual scientist famous within the field.
The reference section is excellent for further research and enlightenment. It is broken down by chapter and is easy to reference.
It is a fun read which I have allowed myself twice already.